Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Ten Chimneys

On Wednesday, May 26th, we were able to realize a year-old goal, and visit the home of theatre stars Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, now open as a museum. The home has been almost completely restored after decades of neglect following the death of Fontanne, and is most unique in that it as closely as possible represents the way the home would have looked in its heyday, when both artists regularly retired there during the summers, and had as guests other luminaries of the theatrical world. It is fascinating to see the guest room that Helen Hayes favored, the one that Noel Coward insisted upon, and the one where Lawrence Olivier was a long-term resident when down on his luck. Katherine Hepburn, Carol Channing, and critic Alexander Woolcott were among the many others that visited there as well. It is commonly said that every room there is arranged as a theatrical set, and I see that in several of the rooms. However, few theatrical sets are as intensely decorated as the public rooms of the main house, studio, and cottage. Lunt engaged a set painter to add character touches to these rooms, a weekend commission that stretched to years as the walls were intricately painted with decorations, portraits, and bible scenes, accented with hand-cut and accented wallpapers. The rooms are also furnished with an eclectic collection of antique furniture, figurines, and other artworks. For all the theatrical importance of the setting, the amount of memorabilia on display is surprisingly small. Lunt and Fontanne seem to have preferred to surround themselves with things they found beautiful and personally significant rather than things like autographed photos or posters (although there are a few on display). In later years, Lunt took up the decoration of the cottage himself, and the walls there are muraled in a vigorous primitive style recalling his boyhood years in Finland. (Lunt, though born in Milwaukee, lived in a Finnish community with his mother and stepfather for a time, which seems to have a strong effect on his tastes.) One can easily see how the beauty and seclusion of the setting, in an unincorporated hamlet in the Kettle Moraine area, must have contributed to the artistic revival of the Lunts and their guests. On the day we visited, which was both the first anniversary of the museum opening and the Lunts’ wedding anniversary, there was a dedication ceremony adding the property to the list of National Historic Landmarks, making it one of 30 in the state of Wisconsin, and one of only ten nationwide dedicated to the arts. We came in shortly after the ceremony was ended, and had a very fine tour with just ourselves and one other person, herself a former volunteer, along with the docent, which was great fun and allowed to look very closely at whatever we wished.
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